How to Steal Your Life Back

I have been reflecting recently on work infrastructure in an ideal world. While writing books fulltime would definitely qualify as an ideal work life, as I have not won the lottery yet (and, much to my accountant’s horror, it is totally a factor in my retirement plans), that “ideal” has to live side by side with less-than-ideal money making schemes.

This is a conundrum that writers down through history have struggled with. There is the school of thought that says if you are a writer you must find something non-writerly to do for your “day job” or you’ll burn out. The usual scenario suggests, if you’re young enough, waitressing by day and writing by night. As exhausting (and probably uber-annoying) as waitressing sounds to me, it does give you an opportunity to study the human condition and that is something that is generally considered very helpful (and fascinating) to most writers who are, at the very least, writers of the human condition.

I have to say I’ve written a few books “on the job,” so to speak, in my time. When an employer is paying you to dig so many ditches, I can imagine you dig the requested number of ditches and you rest or eat your lunch on your lunch break with little thought to squeezing in a paragraph on the brilliance of the morning dew dripping in fat globules down the stately cab of the backhoe. But when your employer is paying you to essentially “be ready in case I need you to write something” and you spend great wads of time staring out a window waiting to be needed, then I think flexing your writing muscles by knocking out a few novels is probably okay. (Hey, I would totally put aside any manuscript immediately if the boss needed me for something!)

I thought I was the only horrible (read: frustrated, poor and bored stupid) employee who did this until I pieced together part of a fellow-writer’s dossier online. I could see by what he said that he had a fulltime corporate sit-in-a-cubicle job, a weekend wait-on-customers at his uncle’s hardware store and yet another job working a deli counter somewhere. And he publishes end-to-end novels. We’re talking, easily four a year. And they’re good!  So while I was scratching my head wondering how this superman was doing this (granted, he’s single with no kids), he mentioned in a tweet how he was beginning his next WIP while he was at work at the office. A little light went on. A fellow time-thief! So that’s how it’s done, I thought. Just as I once did it, myself.

I must say, if everyone is happy, I consider this, totally, a victimless crime. (Although I imagine this post won’t win me too many interviews once I share it to LinkedIn). If the work is getting done, how is this time theft any different or worse than gabbing by the cooler or taking thirty minutes to apply your makeup in the bathroom or working your way through a Salem menthol six times a day on the back deck?


Getting paid to write books. Who knew it was so attainable?

11 thoughts on “How to Steal Your Life Back

  1. I too am a fellow time-thief. Well, I WAS until everything that happened at the beginning of February and I found myself doing three people’s jobs. Let me tell you, I was quite put-out to have so much actually work to do and no spare time to write! And last week we moved our desks so that now I find myself directly outside of my VPs office with nothing but a glass wall keeping her from looking into my cube to catch me writing. I need to find a way around this because my WiP is suffering. 😛

    On the other side of the coin, I guess I could say I get paid to write? 😉

    • I know what you mean! My last corporate gig I was sitting right in the middle of three other people with my computer screen facing the hallway so that anyone walking by could catch a gander. Very constricting when you have a WIP and only so many hours in the day!

  2. I remember a friend from college telling me that her aspiring author friend was diligently working in pubs and restaurants and avoiding ‘office related’ work in an effort to have more energy & motivation to work on her novel. I think this makes sense. Doing physical work, non-related to writing allows you a separation from your job and writing life. Working a 9 to 5 office job, particularly if it relates to writing (which mind does) means that I’m less inclined to spend time on my WIP. Maybe I should quit the day job now huh? 🙂

    • I have so many working writer friends who use as their excuse for not writing the fact that they “sit in front of a computer all day.” I do think a physical job to offset the work of writing is a pretty good balance.

  3. Susan, sometimes I find that good ideas only come to me when I’m writing at the office! I love writing there. Something about the white noise of people working around me helps me zone in.

  4. Great post.

    I work full-time in advertising as a copywriter, and while there are very busy periods, there are also times when I can ‘stare out the window’ (my euphemism for working on my crime novel).

    I used to feel guilty about this… But why should I? I get my ‘real’ work done well, and on time. I hate wasting time – and I don’t smoke or take time out for chats etc… Working on my novel keeps me sane, passionate and fresh about all other writing.

    And although there’s inevitably a certain amount of writing fatigue that comes with writing for a living AND a passion, I have to say that it also delivers momentum – and, since my home life is manically noisy and busy (5-year-old son), there’s something so peaceful and productive about writing in my open-plan office, earphones in and music on…

    • I wrote some of my best stuff while I was a copywriter in Auckland, NZ! And since the kinds of writing are so different–fiction and marketing–I didn’t feel burnout or weariness at switching gears. If anything, it made all the inevitable down time in a typical advertising agency so much more endurable. Good for you!

  5. I not only wrote my first novel at work*, I sold it to them as well. Totally their fault. They should’ve given me more to do than stare at a blank wall all day.

    *A well-known children’s publisher.

  6. I hate to rain on the parade, but three words spring to mind: Intellectual Property Rights.
    Check your employment contract. Many employment contracts, especially for large corporations and public bodies, state that they own the intellectual property rights for everything an employee creates during working hours, especially if those creations use information the employee has gained in the course of their work. In some cases this ‘claim’ extends beyond termination of the employment.
    Two rules I stick to:
    1. Don’t do it on the work’s computer;
    2. Don’t do it on the work’s time.
    Sorry to burst the bubble and all that, but it’s worth bearing in mind (especially when you become the next Dan Brown, and your ex-employer decides to examine the PC you were using when you worked there, only to find your first draft… with a time-stamp on every ‘save’, so they know you were writing when you ought to have been in meetings).
    P.S. I’m not a lawyer – just cautious.

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